How quitting the drink helped Danny Brough extend his record career
WHEN Danny Brough is asked if he has any regrets, there is a slight pause before he replies.
Timing, of course, is everything, not surprisingly given the decorated scrum-half has played with such precision for most of the last two decades.
“If I had a regret, it’s probably not stopping drinking early enough,” the Wakefield Trinity star tells The Yorkshire Post.
“I don’t drink at all now. I’m more level-headed now rather than going out all the time and carrying on like I did.
“I’ve no regrets about my rugby. I’m not one who looks back and thinks I should have done this or that. In a game, maybe, but not in terms of the longevity of my career.
“It was last year (2018) really when I stopped. I’m getting older but the body’s feeling good now. I don’t get in states anymore like I used to do. It (stopping) has been a really big part of my life and it’s helped my family and my kids.
“I probably should have done it 10 years ago – stopped that excessive drinking. But that was the culture back then; we were always out – and I carried it on to a new level ...
“It’s all good now, though.”
It certainly is; Dewsbury-born Brough will enjoy his testimonial game against Hull KR a week tomorrow and turns 37 three days later but is still very much at the top of his game.
He is known for kicking Hull’s winning goal in the 2005 Challenge Cup final and claiming the 2013 Man of Steel as Huddersfield Giants finished top for the first time in 81 years.
However, it is his sustained quality throughout a late-starting Super League career – Brough was 22 when he debuted for Hull having impressed with Dewsbury Rams and York City Knights – that people respect him for so much.
Enigmatic and flamboyant in his early years, some would argue he has developed into the best tactical kicker the competition has seen. As someone who enjoys all the detail of the playmaking craft, the former Scotland captain cites two fellow half-backs when asked who are the best players he has faced since debuting for Dewsbury in 2002.
“Lee Briers,” Brough says, referring to the gifted former Warrington and Wales stand-off.
“He’s quality; his smart thinking in a game was great to watch. He was a great talisman and had such skills; there wasn’t many people who could throw the ball over the top from left to right like Briersy.
“And Danny McGuire for the career he’s had; his support play, his flair and just being a big-game player who never let you down and always got the job done. He was outstanding.”
There are parallels with both; former Leeds Rhinos star McGuire – who retired last term – is just a month older than Brough and they have been facing each other since their junior days. But Brough has a similar tale of international woe to Briers, one of the finest half-backs of his generation criminally overlooked by Great Britain aside from one cap against France in 2001.
In Brough’s case, although he had represented Scotland since 2004, qualifying through his grandfather, there was a persistent clamour for the Yorkshireman to be called up by England, one which finally seemed to be sated by Steve McNamara in 2011.
However, he did not get a chance to actually play until 12 months later against the Exiles, his only involvement. Brough recalled: “I basically got ‘sold a lie’, if I’m honest.
“He (McNamara) came down to Huddersfield and said I needed to change my allegiance from Scotland to England.
“He said he had me in his plans for the next three years and then the next thing he’s brought Rangi Chase in and played me in one Exiles game which wasn’t ideal.
“It wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of or remembered for really. I was a bit of a scapegoat.
“But it’s my own fault for changing in the first place.”
He says he never spoke to McNamara about the snub – “I left it at that. Let bygones be bygones. It’s done isn’t it?” – but returned to Scotland colours and helped them qualify for three World Cups as well as force a famous draw against New Zealand in the Four Nations.
And, of course, the year after that England game he was named Super League’s best player.
Brough says: “It was a great season for Huddersfield Giants as well as myself. It was just real disappointing we didn’t make the Grand Final; that was the goal I really wanted. Getting the accolades is great but that would have topped it if we’d have walked out at Old Trafford.
“It was a step too far for us. We became known for that; not fulfilling our potential in semi-finals. I think I lost three there which was really hard to take.”
Following his former York coach Richard Agar to Hull had been Brough’s big break.
“To win the Challenge Cup in my first Super League season was something special,” he says, after John Kear’s side shocked Leeds – and McGuire – in Cardiff.
“It was unbelievable. I went there in ’05 and didn’t play the first seven games. I was a squad player playing Under-20s or whatever it was and then (Hull’s captain) Richard Swain broke his arm so I ended up debuting at London at hooker. I think that was for about 10 weeks. Swainy came back but Keary found me a place on the right edge and Cookey (Paul Cooke) on the left and Richard Horne in the middle.
“I pretty much sat on the right – and Cookey threw cut-out passes to Yeamo (Kirk Yeaman) who’d generally go through! I didn’t do much. Don’t change it if it’s working!”
But Kear was sacked the following year and Brough fell out of favour with incoming Australian, Peter Sharp.
He explains: “You were only allowed 25 players over £25,000.
“They wanted to sign Matt Sing and I was over £25,000. We had to come to an agreement to move on and carry on with my career.
“It was gutting. Just the way they told me. I’d just bought a house and had our first child and then a week later they’re telling me I’m not wanted.
“They get rid of me and tell me they’ll let me rot and things like that so I ended up agreeing to go to Castleford. I’d gone to a side that ended up getting relegated.
“But I enjoyed myself there and it was a great year the following season when the lads really knuckled down and got the job done to get us back up.”
Brough had already agreed to join Wakefield in 2008 for “security”. He moved on to Huddersfield in 2010 and rejoined Trinity last season on a two-year deal but will he carry on again into 2021?
He says: “I’m hoping to. I’ve trained really hard in pre-season and 100 per cent want to play on, if it’s at Wakefield or elsewhere.
“I definitely feel good enough to play on past this year. If not, I’ll hang my boots up.”
Thankfully, though, you sense one of the sport’s finest – and most prolific pointscorers – will be around a little longer yet.